Guild Wars: The Game of Badass Ladies

Not too long ago in the comments of a post on Livejournal, a small discussion popped up about diversity in video games and how most of the industry tends to not be very progressive (in terms of including strong women characters, characters that are not white, and characters that are not straight). It was pointed out that, while it’s not entirely perfect, the Guild Wars series is likely one of, if not the most progressive major game series around.

There’s a lot to talk about on these subjects, and it’s going to get long, so this will be broken up into several posts over the next couple of weeks. Here is part one, discussing the presence of strong women in Guild Wars, and women in general, within the games.

Trust me, you won't want to mess with her.

I’ve noticed that in many games, there’s a magic ratio of 3:1; where for every three male characters, there’s one female character. While the numbers (among heroes and henchmen) are not entirely 1:1, they’re certainly far better than 3:1; I counted up the heroes and of the 29 available, 11 of them are women, nearly 40% of them. Pretty good! I didn’t count up the henchmen, as there are a lot and many overlap between the campaigns, but a quick glance over the lists show that it’s a very similar proportion to the heroes.

Now, in most fantasy games, novels, movies, etc., the female characters are generally relegated to the roles of magic casters, and healers in particular. Here we have another place where GW likes to subvert the trope a bit. While yes, a lot of the female henchies tend to be casters, they’re not absolutely stuck to those roles only. In fact, the heroes completely flip that, with seven of the women being professions that are not casters, and only four being magic casters – and only one of those casters being a Monk. Of the non-magic professions, only Warriors have more male heroes than female – Assassins and Rangers are dominated by women, and Dervishes have one woman, one man, and one golem. The magic casting professions are far more male-dominated, with no female Elementalists, one Monk, one Mesmer, one Ritualist, and one Necromancer. An interesting flip of what you usually see!

The presence of women in the series carries over to NPCs, and amongst the major ones, ones that have power or are well-known, the games really shine. I mean, first and foremost, the Six Gods that humans worship. Of the six, four of them are women, and Dwayna is the leader of the six. That’s pretty awesome. The Shining Blade’s leadership was very heavily female-dominated, and the two monarchs of Kryta that we know of (Salma in GW1, and Jennah in GW2) are both women. In Factions we have Soar Honorclaw, leader of the Angchu Tengu, Reiko Murakami, head of the Ministry of Purity, and Vizu, who defeated Shiro the first time around; the Luxon clans are all led by women. The Sunspears were led by Kormir, and the ruler of Kourna was Varesh Ossa. The Ebon Vanguard was first led by Captain Langmar and then Gwen. Destiny’s Edge in Guild Wars 2 has Eir, Caithe, and Zojja – three of the five members are women. The Vigil, one of the Orders that can be joined in GW2, is led by Almorra Soulkeeper.

(Caithe and her awesomeness will be further discussed in a later post.)

She will mess you up.

While we’re at it, let’s take a quick look at the charr. The shamans decided to bar the women from fighting, and boy did that come back to bite them in the ass – Kalla Scorchrazor led the other female charr (who of course had been training in secret) against the Flame Legion, ignoring orders from the shamans that they were to stay at home. The presence of Kalla and her warriors doubled the number of charr fighting the Flame Legion, overthrowing them easily, and effectively changed charr society permanently. Anyone that tries to tell a female charr that she’s not the equal of a male likely will regret it very quickly.

Also, don’t forget the “six or none!” ultimatum when it came to designing the female charr.
Even minor NPCs – quest givers, collectors, and even just the guards you see patrolling (especially the Sunspears, Kournan guards, and Vabbian guards) hold a great number of women, definitely many more than I can recall seeing in many other games.

Now, is it perfect? Of course not. But it’s still far better than any other game I’ve played, and is certainly far ahead of most of the gaming industry at this point in time. And as a woman who likes (non-sexist and non-stereotypical) representation within media, I’m pretty pleased with how ArenaNet has done things so far, and how they continue to handle things.

And with that, Happy International Women’s Day to my readers!


23 thoughts on “Guild Wars: The Game of Badass Ladies

  1. Props for covering this! You even pointed out something I hadn’t fully kept track of about the Luxon clans’ leadership. I had mistakenly confused Argo for being the Turtle Clan’s leader. Very nice catch there.

    • I went to look up Rhea, and then decided to check out the other Luxon clans – all three are led by women, which I didn’t even realize myself until I went to look it up! The Elders of the three clans are also all women (though for some reason Casta and Cleo use male skins during in-mission…no idea why), and Aurora is the Champion of the Serpent Clan. Pretty awesome.


  2. Great post. This reminds me of how Star Trek broke conventions by creating heroes from woman, black, chinese or blind people. It’s definitely something that helps promote acceptance and make this planet a better place. Peace. :))

  3. Pingback: Guild Wars: Just as diverse as reality. « Under the Pale Tree

    • Giving half the population a close-to-equal representation is not “pushing males back”. Nor is it sexist in any way. The idea that having a nearly equal number of women is pushing men back IS sexist, though.

  4. and yet GW2 still does not seem to accurately portray females, at least astetically. All of the human-ish females wear clothing that looks like it should be on a nerdy underwear advertisement. It really makes no sense to have “armor” that shows huge cleavage, the torso, and the legs. That’s a metal bikini, not something any right-minded person would wear to a fight. This is coming from a heterosexual male, by the way.

    • I did say it’s not perfect, however I must disagree on “all wear that kind of stuff”. There’s a pretty huge variety in armor choices, a great deal of which cover a great deal of the body. Not to mention that going lightly armored to rely on speed to avoid being hit as opposed to soaking up those hits is a viable option.

  5. Ok, if no one will step up then I shall. Ok, women and men are given “equal rights” on Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 but really, WHO CARES? If you are a woman and play an MMO I am sure you’ll not feel offended by the ammount of male and female NPCs because there are a LOT of other things that can easily oversexualize or even degrade the female immage (again, lack of propper armor for one). What I feel that Guild Wars has is an organically built story with characters that make sense. So many times have I seen in MMOs a character pop up out of nowhere and already have a large ammount of praise when usually the player is the one doing all the work. In guild Wars the game makes sure to tell the player that there is a story happening parallel to what the player is doing and so, if there is a female character doing something important it is not simply because “we should give women equal rights”, it is actually because the women characters in question earned their status on their parallel stories, that despite being told in text most of the times are way better then most MMOs and many B-rated cinema scripts that end up becoming famous movies.
    And really, associate the Sylvari with homosexuals makes no sense at all in a sociological and phisiological perspective because simply put, Sylvari are not Humans, they just look like them.
    Hope this does not annoy anyone, I’m only defending my point of view with what I saw and read out of the Guild Wars games and novels.

    • Clearly spoken from a position of privilege, I see.

      Who cares? A lot of people. See, we live in a sexist society where women are still not seen as equal, we’re seen as lesser or not important, and right now in particular in the US there’s a war being waged against women’s rights. As I pointed out already in this post, women are rarely represented in any real numbers in games (and when we are, it tends to be offensive stereotypes), despite the fact that women make up half the world’s population and half of gamers are women.

      The women did earn their statuses in-game, but it’s the fact that it was women characters that were given these chances in the first place, instead of being passed over for a man (as is so common, both in fiction and real-life), that is a good thing. Yes, some of the armor is a bit silly, but in a fantasy game here’s a bit of unrealism that’ll be going on either way and while it’s not perfect, it’s still far better than any other game I’ve seen.

      Sylvari may not be human but they still have clearly defined genders. They just do not conform to gender roles because there is no need for them to do so as they do not actually reproduce. However,there are indeed gay sylvari – Caithe herself is one of them. As a whole gender matters little to them.

      • Don’t you think that in a society built without gender boundaries and where the only way of reproduction is actually a tree, it wouldn’t make sense to categorize sexual relations and distinguish a “gay” Sylvari from a “straight” one. I mean, Sylvari don’t even care about the concepts, they don’t need genders to distinguish one from another. It would be intresting to see though, how Humans view this sort of “freedom” in relationships, because the Sylvari don’t necesarily need to be monogamic as well, they can cultivate small circle of friendships that are, on Sylvari eyes, their lovers, or at least ArenaNet never stated otherwise.

        • It really doesn’t change the fact that, despite the fact that they do not conform to gender roles and do not reproduce, sylvari are still gendered, have sex, and feel attractions for others.

          • But unlike Humans, Sylvari do not abide to social tenents and pre-fabricated concepts that Human society does, like the concept of “homosexual”. Yeah, they can have the same gender and still have sexual relations, however it is nothing more then natural for them to do so, unlike it would be for a Human who has centuries of a heavy tradition imposed over them by generations, that shape Human society even in Guild Wars.
            What I’m trying to say is, yeah Sylvari can be gay, who cares? Of course Humans do. I am more intrested, though, in how the Asura constitute their families, because they have pretty cientifically centered minds so would they gather into familias because of likeminded theories? Or would it be more a sort of “we need to reproduce so that our species won’t become extinct” sort of thing?

          • Well, homosexuality is simply attraction (sexual or romantic – or both, obviously) to those of the same gender you identify as. On the same subject, I’m sure that there are bisexual or pansexual sylvari, who are attracted to people of either gender. That’s really all it is, after all – attraction.

            (for the record – I am not straight myself.)

            Also I would not say that it’s not natural in human society; it is a normal, natural thing, despite the fact that society frowns up on it for the most part (in reality, that is. We don’t know much about how the other races in GW view sexuality, just the sylvari).

            Asuran families is something I’m interested in, actually; that has to be an interesting dynamic.

    • As a woman working in a profession that (still) has an enormous gender imbalance (7% female at the highest levels), I think portrayals of women in media matter; portraying them as typically passive or weak creates/reinforces a negative public perception of their role. I also think that portrayals of heroes and other prominent figures matter; portraying them as typically white and male creates a perception of that role that tends to exclude others. And this perception, weirdly, actually matters when people are being hired for highly competitive positions. It also matters when your not male or not white kids are looking for a profession; if they’ve never seen someone “like them” prominent in that career, they have a dramatically decreased chance of choosing that career. In my field, this leads to an unfortunate loss of talent.

  6. Pingback: Guild Wars 2: Not as straightforward as it seems « Under the Pale Tree

  7. How inconvenient that the photo you’ve chosen to use for a “badass” female to represent the equality of the game is white, blonde, beautiful, and wearing revealing boob armor. I’ve got to say that instantly, you’ve failed to sell your point by doing that.

    • I talk about how many women who are strong and known for their own merits are in these games, and…include a picture of a woman character that is strong and known for her own merits. Huh.

      I’m not selling any point here, I’m pointing out facts. There’s a bit of a difference.

  8. Pingback: [Guild Wars 2] All women wear make-up « Decoding Dragons

  9. “Now, is it perfect? Of course not.”
    I’m curious, as a point of rhetoric, what defines “perfect” for you?

    I mean, as there are more female henchlings than male, for example, one might say that in that narrow context, the complaint falls completely flat.

    I’m just curious, as (as far as I know) none of the justifiable efforts to redress sexism, ethnic discrimination, etc. have any described endpoints, meaning that it’s very easy for them to mutate from reasonably-fair-correction to punitive-crusade.

    If women have been underrepresented as NPCs in games, for example, would one consider that once they reach a comparable level of the NPC populace to real world demographics, that we then consider this “done” and move on to the next issue? Or is it chronological, saying that in the 32 year history of video games men have been overrepresented, therefore we don’t consider it “leveled” until men have been underrepresented for 32 more years? Or is it 225 years of American history? 5000 years of recorded history? 3 million years of humanity?

    Of course, these same discussions could apply to race.

    I’d warn that the logical counterpart to quota-setting is ceiling setting and tokenism. If one says that, to be fair, at least 10% of a game’s characters must be black because in the US they represent 16% of the populace, then one must also accept that they can NEVER occupy more than 20% of the populace, because to do so would be to ‘short’ some other demographic group (unless one would just assert permanent victimhood to whites, for example, as ‘punishment’ for all their ancestors’ crimes).

    And ultimately, wouldn’t such standards just become ludicrous? What’s wrong with an all-black storyline? The focus on race, gender, sexual preference, etc ultimately becomes a harmful distraction. To put it in real-world terms: is giving a black actor a role “because we need 3.7 blacks per minute of film to hit our average” any LESS patronizing and discriminatory than excluding them because they’re black in the first place? Is putting in characters of specific colors or genders BECAUSE of their color/gender really any better than excluding them for the same reason?

  10. Great post. This reminds me of how Star Trek broke conventions by creating heroes from woman, black, chinese or blind people. It’s definitely something that helps promote acceptance and make this planet a better place. Peace. 🙂 )

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